Perpignan (Eastern Pyrenees)
AN OBJECT OF DISPUTE
Perpignan, the Catalan, the capital of Roussillion, was for centuries the dominion of the Counts of Barcellona and then of the Reign of Aragon, and France definitively conquered it only in the 17th century, with the treaty of the Pyrenees. The political plan for the unification of the Occitane and Catalan lands was eclipsed by the crusade against the Albigensians, when the king of Aragon, coming to the aid of the Occitane nobility against the Northern barons, was killed in the battle of Muret in 1213, near Toulouse. From that time the south of France came under the control of Paris and Catalonia looked towards Spain. Perpignan experienced its moment of greatest glory in the decades between the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th, when it became the continental capital of the Reign of Majorca, created by John the Conqueror for his younger son, who became James II. The building of the Royal Palace begun at this time and which still today dominates the town. This reign was deeply lacerated by the rivalries between James and his brother Peter III of Aragon, but also due to the ambitions of the Reign of France, which inspired to conquer Perpignan by virtue of its commercial and financial wealth.
THE PALACE OF THE KINGS OF MAJORCA
Building was begun in 1274, on the creation of the Kingdom of Majorca. The new king commissioned the project to a famous master builder of the time, Ramon Pau. It was designed to act both as a fortress as well as an elegant royal residence, the building was surrounded by a series of bastions and trenches, which enclosed a series of wonderful internal courtyards, with two overlaid chapels, the great reception hall and the royal apartments. The external walls, made from alternating layer of river pebbles and full bricks, thereby created a truly suggestive ornamental effect. In the interior the main courtyard features wonderfully rounded arches made from blocks of blue marble. Particularly worthy of note also being the portal of the upper chapel, dedicated to Santa Croce: the form of the portal is still of Romanesque style, but the influence of the Gothic can already be felt in the sculpted decorative effects, as well as in the arches of the upper galleries which edge the tower with two chapels.The bastions which surround the Royal Palace feature wonderful gardens providing a wonderful view over the town and the sea.Further interesting monuments include the Castillet (14th century), which formed part of the sturdy town fortifications as well as the cathedral of Saint John, of the same period, a Gothic building alongside a more ancient church of which the fine Romanesque portal remains.
ALONG THE SPICE ROAD
The ancient spirit of Perpignan, a supreme coastal and cultural town, can still be felt in the heart of the old town between Castillet and the Loggia square. The fronts of the various buildings still tell of the various adventures of the merchants of fabrics and leather, dyes and spices, who travelled between the East and the North Sea, at a time when the Middle Ages was already merging into Renaissance. The streets and squares are still perfumed with the exotic hints, and sometimes it is easy to imagine that one is in one of the great Maritime Republics of Italy, with which the Catalans did intensive trade… and with which intensive rivalry also existed. The palm trees and fountains conjure up images of Arabian nights, and on certain warm summer evenings the square resounds with the rhythm of the “sardana”, the colourful Catalan dance. Therefore in this extreme corner of France ….. one is truly “elsewhere”.